In recent weeks, we as Catholics have experienced pain, shame, anger and confusion as a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania revealed how a number of bishops mishandled accusations of abuse by clergy and other employees of the Church. Such news calls forth all sorts of reactions.
Let me say, first of all, that most of these reactions are legitimate. You feel what you feel. You are supposed to get angry at injustice. You are supposed to feel hurt when your family messes up. Sure, of course there are other families that mess up too. But this is my family, and we messed up. It hurts.
In my years as a Franciscan friar and as a Roman Catholic priest, I have known and spoken with both abusive priests and victims of abuse. I have worked closely with bishops who took the painful but necessary steps to protect the innocent; and I have had to work with bishops who tried to act like there was no problem. I do not expect perfection. I do expect a minimum of decency.
In the midst of this, there are moments of hope. I hope that these news stories, for example, will help parishioners and others understand why we at St. Anthony’s enforce the safe environment rules so strictly. I hope that, if the Roman Catholic Church gets beaten up in the public media, this just might help all of society start to deal more realistically with some big problems that are hurting people everywhere – both in the church and elsewhere. And I hope that it will help me to love appropriately.
St. Francis of Assisi said, if you see someone whose life choices you cannot agree with, do not look down upon that person, but look rather into your own heart and examine your own sinfulness, and then ask yourself, how can I love this person more?
Jesus loved his apostles, even though he knew that one would betray him, one would deny him, and most of the rest would run away when he needed them most. He chose to love them anyway, and he chose to build his church upon them in all their imperfection and weakness. Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter were both apostles.
I pray for those who were hurt. I pray for those whose lives were ruined. And I pray that the People of God – who are the Church – will learn how to care for one another in charity and with patience. “You are God’s chosen ones. Put on, then, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in the Lord.” (Col. 3:12-13)
Peace and all good,
friar Bob Showers OFM Conv.
You can read more about the parish's Safe Environment Program here. To report suspicion of sexual abuse at the church, here is contact information. The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has recently upgraded its Safe Environment Program, and we at the parish have followed suit. As a pastor, I am well aware that these efforts can be a hardship for our volunteer religion teachers and other parishioners. Some may even feel that we are doubting them or casting suspicion upon them. That is not our intention, of course. Our goal is to nurture a safe environment for all families, children, youth and vulnerable adults, so that everyone can feel welcome, withour fear. Thank you to all the parishioners who help us strive for that safe environment.